Sunday, June 23, 2024

OLD SCHOOL BONDING

 

May 2008. A railway journey from Bournemouth to Reading. My parents were still alive although my mother didn't know who I was any more. At times she didn't even know who my dad was. The human brain is puzzling miracle.

We are bilaterians: a body plan that goes back at least half a billion years. Is that the root of the split brain? Just when and how did the subtle differentiation of function emerge? Birds peck for grain with focused attention on one side, while letting the other hemisphere scan the background across a broad spectrum. The pigeons take fright in mid peck and flutter off.

The process of tracing over this photograph on my phone with a stylus and a clever little app also involves the two modes of attention. Scanning through old photos I was drawn to this brick buttress. Memories of my own bricklaying days. Admiration for the tumbling-in which creates that sumptuous curve.

 

 




But while tracing out the joints, calling up my fine-grained hand-eye coordination, it's easy to get lost. "Am I on a header course now? Is this the broken bond?" From a distance these bricklaying subtleties just pop into my consciousness with no effort. But when zoomed in and trying to get the right kind of pen stroke, I very easily lose the bigger picture.

Flemish bond on the tumbled curve. It's the prettiest. English Bond on the body of the buttress for strength. Broken bond to accommodate an extra quarter brick of length for some reason. That translates to a half plus a three-quarter because we limit the use of pieces less than a header in width. In the header course we only see the three quarter. The half is just another header in the row.

I could write much more, but not today.

 


Another example of the broken bond I touched on in my last post. A recess or blind window. It's five and a quarter bricks wide. Don't ask me why.

The broken bond must go in the middle. We don't put small pieces in the middle. So the solution reads as a three-quarter plus a header, alternating with a three-quarter. This pattern is maintained very nicely all the way up the middle of the panel.

I'm sure there is brickwork of this quality being executed today, but I think it's the exception where once it was the rule.

. Modernity is a wonderful thing. It created the Samsung Note I use to record these musings in the early hours while trying to get back to sleep. It gave us the drawing software, the digital photos, cloud storage, WiFi, etc. Technology that grafts itself onto my brain memory, drawing skills, waning eyesight.

But there is a down side. Let's not pretend. I don't have the magic bullet, but surely we must find a way to bring back a world of carefully crafted objects that last a lifetime, or even a couple of centuries. It won't come about by climate alarmism, fussing about offensive words, accusing the Jews of genocide. We need to remain calm and respectful, take a long term view. Look for a balance between mass production and the human touch. Innovation and continuity.

This is my hope for my beautiful grandchildren, and for yours.

 


 

The old and the new(ish). These two photos are both from my 2008 visit to Bournemouth. I spent a week living with my mum and dad, sleeping in the guest room of the nursing home they had recently moved to. My mum was drifting away inside her own mind.

So I parachuted in from Dubai to live in an institutional setting for a week. We didn't get out a lot, but when we did I was snapping away, capturing those little details that spoke of English building traditions. Such a contrast to the Dubai I had lived in for 4 years and to Zimbabwe where I had spent the previous 23. There is a deeper sense of history in UK.

Lighting in the plane of the roof takes many forms. Individual glass pantiles were once a thing. The left hand image seems to be a cast-iron frame. I came across these first in a house in Scotland. Evidence of "bodging" an ancient trade of the semi - skilled variety. Plain clay tiles : a system where little more than a third of each tile is visible. Weathered and irregular, almost like animal scales.

On the right, modern interlocking tiles, cement based. Mass production favours efficiency over charm. But at least it's recognisable as a tiled roof. There's a measure of continuity with the past. The skylight is Velux, also mass-produced, but essentially a Danish family firm and accessible to the DIY market.

So it's wonderful to see these two side-by-side. That's what brings a sense of history and continuity. I love Dubai and also Zimbabwe, but English towns have 500 year old churches.

So lucky to have spent a couple of decades in all three places observing the "way we build" in different climates, cultures, epochs, moods...

 


 

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

CHURCH SERVICE

 

Picked up work on my "Hampshire Churches" study. Gathering information, organising into structured folders, using a "Revit Map" to visualise, analyse, plan.

Two years ago I did a study of Danish churches. It was a follow up on my exploration of the Klint churches of Copenhagen and I really learnt a lot in the process. As I dive deeper into the village churches of Hampshire I am really struck by a distinctive tradition stretching back to the Saxon era. The first few churches of this type that I visited were in the Meon valley and I had assumed that they were quite rare. Turns out they are quite common. Small village churches with clay tile roofs, squat timber bellfries. Red brick, whitewash, exposed roof trusses.

 



Not sure exactly how this comparative study will shape up, but I will be spending more and more time in this part of the world as I move through my transition to retirement. Looking forward to a rolling program of visits, mixed in with BIM pencil studies, maybe some freehand drawing and painting.

 

 

How to set about a survey of dozens of village churches in a particular region of Europe. I developed a number of techniques two years ago, looking at Danish churches mostly white, often with stepped gables.

I was using Revit of course, "off-label" application of the software perhaps, but for me it was very effective. So now, with a visit to Hampshire looming, I am picking up the threads again. This time I won't be totally reliant on web research although it's a great way to prepare for the visit and and a capability I never dreamed of 30 years ago when I first came up with the term "the way we build" to characterise such studies.

 



We can think of buildings as a mirror, a reflection of our cultural and technological history. The Hampshire Churches will help me to reflect on the withdrawal of Roman administration from Britain, the coming of Anglo-Saxons across the water, replacement of paganism by Christianity and so on.

Also use of flint walling, burning of chalk for lime, timber roofing of various configurations, how to best create Revit families for pointed arch windows with deep, splayed reveals. No shortage of threads to weave together with "the great integrator" AKA my BIM pencil, you may know it as Revit.

 



 

 

Saturday, June 1, 2024

AUCKLAND V TUSCANY

 This is scary. Eleven years ago I was on my way to New Zealand for the first time, perhaps the only time. I was full of hope. Visiting my sister and speaking at a BIM conference. I wanted to share my belief that Revit is a thinking tool, like a pencil. That we can use it for self reflection.

I am older now and conscious that time is running out. But I remain proud of this work, tentative though it is. I attempted a study of three famous office buildings, very different in form, style and context.

I have been told that my conference papers are not commercial enough. But isn't that the point? Isn't there a place for one out of thirty presenters to explore BIM as a tool for asking the bigger questions? Don't we have a duty to future generations as well as to our clients?

 



I am a great believer in visual thinking. People often tell me that there are better tools than Revit for "modeling something like that" But this also misses the point. I want to humanise our modern digital tools, to connect them to the grand tradition of visual thinking from cave art, to Leonardo, to Cezanne or Picasso. (not forgetting Gordon Cullen or Leon Krier)

Eleven years is a long time. I don't go to these conferences any more. I'm trying to just reflect on the winding road my life has followed and to share what I can for future generations. It's not earth shattering, but maybe it will be useful to a few bright souls looking for a different approach.



One last post about Volterra (for now) I chose this church as my Revit modelling exercise to be my original contribution to the workshop. All the sessions and practical experiences were wonderful but I am never going to go round laser scanning on my own. Recognising where best to direct your efforts is an important skill.

Dave Dreffs helped me to convert multiple photos into a usable mesh which I then processed to remove edges and embedded in a side altar family. It's a shield motif. Not amenable to native Revit modelling. Doesn't show up in these images. I did the smoothing and embedding back in Dubai.

Mapping the city and abstracting into diagrams was a multi-dimensional exercise. Topography surface from GIS. Sorting my photos and grouping by district. Inventing those districts for my own purposes. Linking point clouds. Struggling with levels. Searching for appropriate levels of detail with extrusions. Starting in-place and choosing when to covert into loadable families.

All those dimensions fused together into a learning experience for me. The models were later handed on to Paul Aubin and may have helped the team as they incrementally build up their digital representations of a wonderful historic city.

Paul has also done some great Revit modelling of individual buildings. I'm a little out of touch with the latest work but it seems to be maturing and integrating very nicely. Food and drink being consumed in wonderful surroundings for sure.

Memories to treasure.




Casa del Fascio and Lever House. Two fascinating office buildings. One from just before WW2 the other just after. Both modernist visions of a rational, technological future.

Terragni's modelling of the four different facades of his courtyard block crackles with tight creative energy. But there are many more secrets waiting when you start to model a building like this with a tool like Revit. So many hours spent puzzling over things I didn't quite understand. Sadly I will probably never visit this building now. Life is a wonderful gift. Accept the hand that is dealt to you, and do something special with it.

 




Lever House, I have seen. Visiting New York when my daughter lived in New Jersey. I saw images of this building as a teenager when I was first exploring the idea of being an architect. It's a blend of idealism and pragmatism that seems typically American. And it's almost exactly the same age as me.

The curtain wall is a fascinating hodge-podge. How rapidly that technology has developed as specialist firms entered an ever expanding market. I exported a DWFX study file of a portion of the framing and facade system that was part of my presentation and has been shared with a few architecture students since then.

According to British art critic Reyner Banham in 1962, Lever House "gave architectural expression to an age just as the age was being born"... so says Wikipedia. Banham was my history of architecture professor at the Bartlett in 1970.





Sunday, May 12, 2024

SCAN AND BURN

 Memories of six years ago. I honestly thought I would be back in Volterra with this group of friends but stuff happens. First it was covid, then my cancer diagnosis and now the business of setting up my "exit strategy" for when the time comes to leave Dubai.

I hate the term "reality capture". It sounds like we are putting life itself in prison. But that fortnight in 2018 absorbing the sights and sounds of a Tuscan hill town that has been continuously occupied for 3000 years, that was truly magical.

Thank you to Mark Dietrick, Assoc. AIA, LEED AP and Paul Aubin for enticing me into that experience. Bottom left is inside San Giusto using the Matterport to capture the interior. Top right is my Revit model of that "rustic baroque" church which has been developed further since. Churches and temples offer such a fascinating topic for comparative history.

Kudos to David Dreffs, Tristan Randall, LEED AP BD-C Young guys (to me) so comfortable with the hardware and software, able to liberate rather than capture. "keeping it real"... language is so slippery, a complex web of neural connections. Real time render. Is there a false time render? Virtual falsity?

Volterra 2018. Special time.

 

 

Deja Vu all over again. A historic spire shrouded in scaffolding goes up in flames. Renovation project turns to tragedy.

I visited Copenhagen in 2017 on my way to a conference. Took several photos of the 17th century bourse, or stock exchange, a long low red-brick building with elaborate gables and a very unusual spire. Dragons with their entwined tails pointed to the sky.

There is a statue of Neptune at the entrance. Symbol I suppose of Denmark's wealth from shipping, (herring fishing, rivalry with the hanseatic league, union with Sweden.)

 




It's a wonderful city. I have done a BIM-pencil study of the Klint churches and learned a lot. Would love to go again but there are dozens of cities I would like to visit and to be honest my ability to travel is beginning to push against limits.

Let's hope the restoration project generates as many fascinating images as Notre Dame de Paris. It's truly fascinating to see traditional craftsmanship proceeding trade by trade. Copenhagen will rise to the challenge. A sad moment but also an opportunity to show strength and resilience.

 



 

My response to the Volterra experience. I used Revit and digital painting in equal measure to process my ideas and emotions, to understand the structure of the town better, to probe the technical details that caught my attention.

This process is reflected in several posts on my blog for those who want to hunt it down. For me I just enjoy looking back at that burst of energy and the special memories it invokes.

I thought nothing of extracting contours from a jumble of GIS files, stitching them together, simplifying, and generating a toposurface for the entire locality. For no other reason than my own curiosity. Accuracy be damned, I needed to produce something that would allow my brain to sift through all the diverse information and sensory overload to move forward, express my own ideas and ask penetrating questions.

This is the kind activity I live for, BIM dynosaur that I am. 🤣🤣🤣

 



 

Just to be clear, neither the original BBC extract nor the spoof report represents my own opinion. I am simply 'noting lack of nuance' and 'experimenting with a counter-factual approach'.

However strongly you may hold to "one side" of a particular debate, it seems to me to be important to acknowledge that other people take a very different view for quite genuine reasons.

I don't find it helpful to represent opinions as fact, to moralise or to ridicule. Yes there is a gentle irony in this juxtaposition, but I have friends and family who align closely with the BBC position.

I respect their views. I hope they would respect my opinion that the argument is over-stated.

I support long term climate action with a priority given to Nuclear Power. I have no problem with wind and solar but they lack energy density. With the best will in the world, a major energy transition is going to take a century or more to reach maturity on a global scale. We need abundant cheap energy to allow Africa to develop. "Ban-Regulate-Demonise" is not a balanced approach.

Those are my opinions, not facts. I'm not trying to convert anyone. I'm not on "a mission from God" I continue to read, watch and listen. I may change my mind again. But I am very suspicious of ideologically driven stories dressed up as news.